Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapy method that can benefit people suffering from various mental health conditions, including PTSD, depression, and anxiety. It is especially effective for treating trauma.
EMDR differs from traditional talk therapy in many ways. During EMDR sessions, a client does not have to delve into the troubling details of their history. Instead, their therapist will help them target and reprocess certain moments through stimulation guiding their eye movements.
This enables the brain to engage in a natural healing process without re-traumatizing the client. Here’s how an EMDR session typically proceeds, and how each phase contributes to the healing process.
History and Treatment Planning
In Phase 1, the therapist will spend time talking to the client about their history and making plans for their treatment. While the client will have to briefly discuss the events that led them to therapy, they do not have to go into specific details. The therapist and client will also discuss skills that the client wants to work on.
Phase 2 involves preparation for dealing with emotional disturbances. Without going over these coping techniques, EMDR sessions can become overwhelming for the client.
That’s why learning how to relax through treatment is essential. The therapist will also teach the client more about EMDR and the purpose of each phase, as well as work on establishing a foundation of trust.
Assessment is the primary focus of Phase 3. The therapist will choose a certain image related to the target event that they want to reprocess, then identify the negative beliefs they’ve developed about themselves in relation to this event. They will also consider some positive self-statements that they would like to embrace through EMDR.
In addition, the client will reflect on the distressing emotions and uncomfortable physical sensations that they experience when triggered by the memory of the target event.
Phase 4 marks the beginning of the desensitization process. The therapist will help the client navigate changes of focus by guiding their eye movements. Throughout this guided process, the client will focus on the target event as the therapist prompts them to reflect on different associations.
This is intended to resolve the trauma over multiple sessions and help the client form new, positive associations.
In Phase 5, the therapist supports the client to increase the strength of the positive beliefs they identified during the assessment period in phase 3.
It’s about accepting these new beliefs—and not just on the surface. The therapist will check in with the client to see how strongly they accept these positive beliefs to evaluate whether the process is working for them.
During the body scan in Phase 6, the therapist will prompt the client to focus on the target event. As they reflect on the event, the therapist will guide them through a body scan to see if there is any lingering tension related to the event.
If the client recognizes tension, they will work with the therapist to continue reprocessing.
Phase 7, known as closure, takes place after every session. The therapist will take some time to check in with the client to ensure that they feel better at the end of the session than they did at the beginning. If not, they will work on relaxation exercises until the client reaches an emotional equilibrium.
Phase 8 involves reevaluation, which marks the start of every new session. The therapist will go over the treatment plan with their client and discuss the progress they’ve made so far.
Are you struggling with trauma, anxiety, or another mental health condition? EMDR can help you heal. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.